Santa Fe New Mexican
H-board: Paint, don’t post
Panel blocks Burro Alley mural over materials, challenges Guadalupe Street banners
Blank walls and streetlight poles aren’t usually lightning rods for controversy, but then, they do call it the City Different. Santa Fe’s Historic Districts Review Board dealt with a pair of thorny artis-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder issues this week, striking down a proposed new mural depicting burros in Burro Alley and raising concerns about a proposed set of stylized Guadalupe Street banners, saying it wants the opinion of an influential member of the neighborhood — Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
The mural, proposed by Burger Stand building owner Charlotte Capling, depicts seven burros on a sheet of vinyl attached to aluminum
that Capling wanted to install just off West San Francisco Street in a recessed wall in the alley where vendors in early Santa Fe once lined up beasts of burden laden with fuel wood.
Members of the board charged with protecting the look of Santa Fe’s historic districts cried foul: Some said a mural is supposed to be painted directly onto a wall.
“I love the graphic, but the material is not suitable there,” board member Frank Katz said.
“I’m not sure a vinyl-aluminum treatment of art is reflective of the historic nature of the alley,” board member Jennifer Biedscheid added. “I would appreciate it painted directly on the wall.”
City code was little help. City officials who help administer design rules for the architecturally controlled downtown area wondered how to classify the application for the Burro Alley art. Was it a sign or a mural or what? Eventually, they went with mural — though city code has no definition for a mural, said Lisa Roach, planner manager in the city’s Historic Preservation Division.
“It’s not necessarily clear but neither is the code,” Roach said.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary plays it both ways with its definition of a mural: “a picture, esp. a large one, painted directly onto a wall” or “a large photograph, etc. attached directly to a wall.”
The board invited Capling to return with a new application to paint the mural directly on the stucco wall. But, in an interview, she said she is done with the mural idea. She and her
brother own much of the east side of Burro Alley, property that has been in the family for 40 years. Concerns about vandalism, she said, persuaded her not to paint directly on the wall.
A few blocks to the southwest, merchants on South Guadalupe Street proposed adding some pop to the commercial strip with a couple of dozen banners attached to lampposts. But H-board members frowned at the idea, which is popular in other areas of the country.
The proposed banners struck a nerve with board members, in part because they feature a stylized image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a Marian apparition in 16th-century Mexico.
“The banners to me are something we don’t need to see,” board member Herbert Lotz said. “They take the attention away from the design of Santa Fe.”
Board members also questioned if the retailers had consulted with anyone at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which oversees the adjoining historic Santuario de Guadalupe shrine, about using an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The merchants had not.
“We need to be mindful of the church’s opinion,” Biedscheid said.
Said Katz: “You should have contacted the church beforehand.”
No one at the church responded Wednesday to a phone message seeking comment.
The historic board’s advisory recommendation to the Santa Fe City Council would limit the banner display to three months and asks the merchants obtain the approval of the church to depict the Virgin of Guadalupe.
When the governing body meets April 24, it’s likely to see mixed messages from various city entities as it considers whether to allow the banners.
Earlier, the Santa Fe Planning Commission approved them, the city’s Finance Committee rejected them and the Public Works Committee voiced concern, said Liz Camacho, communications director at the city’s Office of Economic Development, which has helped the ad hoc Guadalupe Street Association usher the banner proposal through the city review process.
The City Council also would have to amend the signage code to allow the proposed banners. The current code allows only 400-year-anniversary banners on lightposts, used in 2010 to commemorate the 1610 establishment of Santa Fe.
Merchants believe the proposed banners would bring attention to the Guadalupe retail district, which they say has been largely forgotten since the nearby Sanbusco Market Center closed in 2016.
“I have consistently heard from locals and tourists that Guadalupe has nothing to offer since the closure of Sanbusco,” said Shawna Tatom, a member of the informal Guadalupe Street Association, which is pushing for the banners. “These misconceptions are false and have not served Guadalupe Street well at all.”
The merchants want to display 22 double-sided banners decorated with a stylized Virgin of Guadalupe and the words Guadalupe St., designed by Alberto Elias Zalma of Zalma Lofton Gallery on Guadalupe Street. Thirteen would go on the east side of Guadalupe and nine would go on the west side. The banners would be 48 inches by 30 inches and fit into brackets that still remain on the light poles from the 400th anniversary banners.
“We’re trying to distinguish ourselves as a unique business district,” said Tatom, owner of Curiosa, a shop on Guadalupe. “I think the idea is we have the Plaza, we have the Railyard. We want to bridge those two. We want to change the narration that there is nothing here because Sanbusco is gone. We’re trying to brand the area.”
Merchants started meeting about eight months ago as they sought ways to attract shoppers to Guadalupe after traffic flagged following the end of the retail era at Sanbusco Market Center.
The city this year already shortened parking meter hours on Guadalupe to stop at 5 p.m. and rerouted the free Historic District Santa Fe Pickup shuttle onto Guadalupe, adding three new stops on the street.
The banner project would be funded and executed by the merchants group, which also would be responsible for maintenance.
“In order for anything to happen, we have to take care of it ourselves,” Tatom said.